“Satiate with power, of fame and wealth possessed, A nation grows too glorious to be blest; Conspicuous made, she stands the mark of all. And foes join foes to triumph in her fall.”
—George Crabbe, Thelibrau
In the last year, Michael Lind has emerged as the new wunderkind of American political discussion. He was the subject of a full profile in the Washington Post‘s Style section last summer, and Newsweek‘s July 31 cover story on the “overclass” was drawn on a concept central to the book under review here. The most noticeable of his many articles in the last year or so was probably his analysis in the New York Review of Books of the writings of Pat Robertson, in which he not only argued that Robertson and his Christian Coalition were indeed anti-Semites, as the Anti-Defamation league of B’nai B’rith has claimed, but renounced his own earlier allegiance to the political right for failing to follow his lead in repudiating Robertson’s supposed hidden anti-Semitic and homophobic agenda. The self-abasing apologetic that the Coalition’s Ralph Reed gave before the League shortly afterward may have been precipitated by this article. Lind’s analysis of Robertson was immensely useful to the Anti-Defamation League’s attack on the Christian Coalition, and his article appeared just in time to prevent the ADL’s own ammunition from blowing up in its face.
But it is The Next American Nation that is so far the capstone of Lind’s reputation. Contrary to the neoconservative champions of what he calls “democratic universalism” and American “exceptionalism,” and consistent with arguments made in Chronicles over the last decade, Lind argues for the existence of a real American nation, defined mainly by a common culture and language, rather than by race or adherence to a creed of universal rights. His case for a common nationality also involves a critique of contemporary multiculturalism, which rejects a common nationality as a mask for Eurocentric racial and cultural hegemony.
Nevertheless, while recognizing the fact of a common nationality throughout American history, Lind’s American past is a succession of three regimes or “republics” that express the interests and values of the different population strains and classes that created them. The “First Republic,” which he calls “Anglo-America,” persisted from the adoption of the Constitution to the Civil War and reflected the power of its largely Anglo- Saxon or “Anglo-Germanic” people. The “Second Republic,” or “Euro- America,” flourished from the Civil War to the civil rights era of the 1960’s and represented the dominance of a non- Anglo-Germanic, but still European, population. The “Third Republic,” or “Multicultural America.” is the regime in which we now find ourselves, as mass non-European immigration and the emergence of nonwhite racial, cultural, and political consciousness force changes in the distribution of power and wealth, as well as in national cultural symbolism.
Each of these eras or republics is distinguished by a particular ruling class—the first by its largely British-descended agrarian and mercantile elites that saw themselves as the heirs to ancient Anglo-Saxon and Germanic traditions of republican liberty; the second by its industrial capitalist elite that depended on mass labor and, therefore, mass European immigration; and the third by what Lind calls, in a term d’art he has already popularized, “the overclass.” Each republic was also characterized by “its own consensus, its own threefold national formula, describing the national community, the civic religion, and the political creed,” each of which also reflected the interests of the rulers of the regimes. “Federal republicanism,” essentially aristocratic and decentralist and drawn from British Old Whig political doctrine, was the defining political creed of the First Republic; “federal democracy,” based on a larger and more centralized national state and more directly democratic, was the political ideal of the Second Republic; and a multiculturalist democracy revolving around the “group rights” enshrined in affirmative action, multiculturalist curricula, and racially gerrymandered electoral districts characterizes the Third Republic.
Lind’s morphology of American history (a caricature of Clyde Wilson’s richer analysis) is just a bit too cute, and it can be criticized for its casual lumping (or separation) of diverse figures, ideas, and forces.
Although he insists throughout on common language and common culture rather than race as the basis of nationality, it is really racial and ethnic consciousness that distinguish Lind’s three “republics.” The first two republics in his historical scheme were both explicitly racialist in their public ideologies. The First Republic, as Lind describes it, was virtually proto-Nazi, with Thomas Jefferson wrapping himself in the myth of the Anglo-Saxon race and the discovery of the unity of the Indo-European (or “Aryan”) languages in the late 18th century providing a rationale for the doctrine of Anglo-Germanic supremacy. The Second Republic was no less racialist, though it modified the doctrine of Anglo-Saxon supremacy to one of merely white supremacy, restricting the immigration of nonwhites but allowing the entry of Europeans and their assimilation into the national economy and mythology. The Third Republic also revolves around race, perhaps even more explicitly than the first two, except that white supremacy is rejected and scorned, while the “empowerment” of nonwhites is exalted.
Lind seems unaware of the racialist implications of his analysis. He is explicit about his belief that race is an objectively meaningless concept that should disappear through intermarriage. Yet despite his denials, race keeps slipping in through the basement window as a major historical force. When he comes to describing the common language and common culture that define the American nation, they too turn out to be racially based. The common language is plainly derived from Indo-European languages, while the common culture is derived from the cultures of European populations. Leaving aside the question of the extent to which race actually determines culture, what Lind’s own account implies is that race is the carrier of culture, if only because we tend to learn our culture from the same people, our parents and their breeding pools.
Despite its flaws, Lind’s concept of culture is considerably deeper than that of neoconservative universalists like Ben Wattenberg, who view American culture as limited to the techno-pop of Madonna and McDonald’s, getting rich quick, and invocations of civics textbook celebrations of democracy and equality for everybody. By their cultural standards, assimilation takes place as soon as an immigrant gets a job and starts watching television. Assimilation to Lind’s standards would be more difficult, but he still underestimates the persistent power of alien habits of thought and conduct, and he never seems to grasp that culture consists not merely in unique customs but in distinctive norms that define the ways in which a people is supposed to think, feel, and act.
Lind’s concept of class is as flawed as his view of culture, and it is his account of the “overclass” that, more than any other aspect of his book, has grabbed the popular imagination. He did not coin the term (Kevin Phillips, for one, uses it in one of his books earlier in this decade), but it is a useful word to describe a social stratum that lacks any other label and is now beginning to acquire its own consciousness and identity.
Lind defines a social class as a “group of families, united by intermarriage and a common subculture, whose members tend to predominate in certain professions and political offices, generation after generation.” But this definition conflates a social class (the kinship and subcultural elements) with a ruling class (the domination element); not all social classes “predominate in certain professions and political offices,” only elites or ruling classes (which are not the same thing either). Moreover, defining social class in terms of kinship and subcultures is not adequate. The members of any class tend to marry among each other, and the custom of intermarriage is not distinctive of classes (members of the same nations, races, and religions also tend to intermarry). If the concept of class is to be useful for social and political analysis, it has to identify a set of common interests, economic, political, or social, that unite one group in distinction from others with different and often conflicting interests.
But Lind’s discussion of the overclass has little to do with his own definition of class. Despite a clever dissection of the sexual and marital habits of the overclass, which include postponed marriage and post-adolescent cohabitation as a form of trial marriage, the overclass is not at all defined by intermarriage. The overclass, he writes, is “a small group consisting of affluent white executives, professionals, and rentiers, most of them with advanced degrees, who with their dependents amount to no more than a fifth or so of the American population.” Fair enough, but this definition excludes the kinship and subcultural elements of his definition of social class.
Lind’s overclass is essentially a variation of his fellow Texan C. Wright Mills’ Power Elite, though it also owes a good deal to James Burnham and the theory of the managerial revolution, from which Mills also borrowed. The overclass, Lind writes, “originated in the middle of the 20th century in the merger of the Northeastern elite [the industrial capitalists of the Second Republic] with other Anglo-American sectional elites and the assimilated, upwardly mobile descendants of 19th- and 20th-century European immigrants.” Its power is based on fraud and manipulation: “The hypocrisy and cunning of its members should not be mistaken for weakness. Machiavelli observed that one must rule either by sforza or frodo, by force or fraud. The white overclass in the United States since the 60’s has specialized in ruling by fraud.” The great fraud it perpetrates, he argues, is in claiming that it is liberal, supposedly committed to promoting social change and encouraging equality, while in reality its concessions to nonwhites are minimal. Its sponsorship of “group rights,” multiculturalism, and “identity politics” are in fact “merely America’s version of the oldest oligarchic trick in the book: divide and rule.”
The overclass, Lind argues, by pretending to support nonwhite racial aspirations, actually promotes racial polarization and keeps the races apart to prevent the emergence of a transracial political coalition that would directly threaten its dominance. One of his basic misconceptions about the overclass is that it depends on inheritance far more than it really does. Earlier elites, he rightly points out, have depended on inheritance and have become true oligarchies as a result. He tries (but fails) to show that the overclass does the same thing. Unlike earlier elites such as the English gentry, Boston brahmins, or local and regional elites in 19th-century America, the overclass does not depend on intermarriage or inheritance, despite its members’ cohabitation and eventual intermarriage and their efforts to set their offspring up in advantageous positions. Indeed, the overclass doesn’t even rely on the family, which is why it tends to scorn family and kinship bonds of all kinds.
The overclass, Lind never quite seems to grasp, depends on its proficiency in managerial and technical skills (hence the importance of “advanced degrees” in his characterization of it) and their applications to organized political, economic, and cultural affairs. Its power derives from the dependence of the modern economy, culture, government, and politics on such skills. Proficiency in these skills cannot be acquired or transmitted through kinship but only by “merit,” which presupposes not only intellectual abilities but also various personality traits that enable the “meritorious” to work and play well with others in immense bureaucratized organizations where following established routines and adhering to established organizational norms of thought and behavior are the minimal requirements for survival and advancement.
It is precisely because the overclass depends on merit in this sense that it objects to the other structures of reward that older elites favored. The overclass rejects (and undermines) not only family connections and inherited wealth and status but also traditional religion, morals and manners, local governmental authority and regional loyalties, and racial identity. Such institutions do not recognize managerial proficiency and personalities as the only valuable characteristics of an elite, and they permit the competition of alternative elites that could rival the overclass. The vehicle for that subversion is generally known as liberalism, the political formula of the managerial overclass today. Its liberalism and its support of nonwhite and antiwhite forces and agendas is not just a mask; it is an authentic expression of its group interests, an instrument by which it acquires and keeps power, while at the same time managing the destruction of the culture and nationality whence it arose.
Lind contrives to miss the structural interests of the overclass that liberalism serves, yet he does grasp what the overclass is doing and the costs it is imposing on American society. “The overclassdominated political elite of both parties has waged a generation-long class war against the middle class. That class war has been waged on three fronts: regressive taxation, free-market globalism, and the new feudalism,” meaning the trend toward privatization, for the benefit of the overclass, of what should be public services—police protection through private security guards, private schools, private parks and roads, a “volunteer” military, the withdrawal to the suburbs and exurbs. The result of this war on the middle class is not only the social and economic polarization of classes and races, but what Lind calls the trend toward “Brazilianization,” with the real prospect of a technobureaucracy insulated from the costs of its own dominance and ruling and a middle-class society reduced to an ugly, violent, vulgar, and increasingly impoverished wasteland.
Lind’s account of the overclass war on the middle class would be considerably stronger if he showed any grasp of the “culture war,” which is key to overclass domination. Middle-class and traditional culture are impediments to overclass interests. Broadly speaking, it is in the long-term interest of the overclass (not of anyone else) to “managerialize” society so that all aspects of life are organized, packaged, routinized, and subjugated to manipulation by the technical skills the overclass possesses, and that interest requires the undermining of institutions and norms that are independent of, and impediments to, overclass control. Lind says nothing about the culture war, perhaps because he shares the overclass’s hostility to the deeper American culture as racist, homophobic, and wrapped up in religious fanaticism.
Indeed, for all its fulminations and occasional useful insights into the overclass, and all its purported determination to expose and challenge overclass domination, Lind’s book serves overclass interests. This becomes clear, not only through his fallacious insistence on the “white” and “conservative” identity of the overclass, but also through his own description of the agenda of “liberal nationalism.”
Lind does indeed reject some of the most important policies of multiculturalism, including mass immigration and affirmative action, but what he wants is the installation of the “Fourth Republic,” or “Trans-America,” in which racial and economic inequality will be abolished. “Nothing less than a radical reconstruction of the American class hierarchy is required to reduce the diminished but still significant correlation between class and color that is the enduring legacy of three centuries of caste law and caste politics.”
That radical reconstruction is to be carried out by the national state, the prophets of which for Lind were Alexander Hamilton and his heirs, Webster, Clay, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson, with Herbert Croly thrown in as a transitional prophet of what he calls the “New Hamiltonianism.” The reconstruction would involve a high degree of centralization of power and central management of society and economy by the neo-Hamiltonian state. Since the culture Lind defends is the “national culture,” local, regional, and ethnic variations are either unimportant or obstructive. “Why should restrictions on abortion vary between New York and Nevada?” he demands angrily. “Why should a company have to deal with entirely different rules for tax assessment in Florida and Maine? Why should a homosexual employee of IBM be considered a law-abiding citizen in Massachusetts and a felon in Alabama, to which he is transferred by the corporation he works for?”
The answer, of course, is that Americans in New York, Nevada, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and Alabama have rather different views regarding abortion, homosexuality, and taxes, among other matters, notwithstanding the fact that they speak the same language and share the same national culture. What never occurs to Lind is the question, why should Nevada and Alabama be “reconstructed” by the national state to have the same standards as New York and Massachusetts? Nor does it occur to him (or at least he never lets on that he knows) that such reconstruction is precisely what the overclass is trying to achieve. What Lind demands of the overclass and the swollen federal bureaucracy it controls is the abandonment of racial manipulation and a policy of simple nondiscrimination, without preferences. Nondiscrimination by the state is unobjectionable, but Lind wants national outlawing of all discrimination, public and private, on grounds of race, gender, and sexual preference. That policy, of course, would simply intrude the national state into the management and “radical reconstruction” of independent social institutions and private firms, and would represent a massive enhancement of the overclass state.
The “national democracy” he envisions as the political ideal of Trans-America would also involve replacing the present system of congressional representation with proportional representation, which, he hopes, would diminish the power of largely European-American parts of the country (e.g., small Western states) in favor of the power of those under non-European influence (the Northeast and those peripheral states where immigration has had a major impact). Economically, while he rightly urges restrictions on corporate expatriation, he also endorses “unsubtle, crude, old-fashioned redistribution of wealth, through taxation and public spending” as well as restrictions on campaign finances and practices, abolition of “legacy preferences” at even private universities (which he sees as merely extensions of the state), and the effective abolition of professional licensing and credentialling. Not all of these ideas are bad, but Lind’s proposal is a liberal version of national socialism, “radical reconstruction” of society and redistribution of wealth by the central state, not for the purpose of fulfilling universal rights but for the ostensible goal of strengthening the nation. As John Lukacs and I have noted, the synthesis of nationalism and socialism is the strongest political force of this century; Lind is trying to keep the synthesis alive for the next century, and to reformulate it for the political left.
But one practical problem with his vision of Trans-America is that there is no realistic prospect for it to evolve. It seems to depend on a supposititious coalition of the nonwhite underclass with the white middle and working classes that the overclass is dispossessing, and not only on a coalition but on intermarriage among the races. Since it is culture and language that are important to Lind, and since he is oblivious to race even as a subjective mode of consciousness, it never occurs to him that the emergence in the last 30 years of a nonwhite racial consciousness promises not only to prevent any such national coalition but even to aggravate antagonisms, as nonwhites become the majority and continue to invoke “white racism” as the only explanation for their own failures.
Lind is correct in his criticism and rejection of both the antinational “democratic universalism” of the neoconservatives and the antiwhite as well as antinational multiculturalism of the left. and he is correct that a real American nation exists and has existed since at least the time of the War for Independenee. But that nation—and the culture and language that define it—are simply inseparable from the people that created them and transmitted them, and if mass immigration and low white fertility continue for much longer, that people will cease to exist and the nation they created will die with them. The overclass bears a large part of the responsibility for that protracted murder of the nation, but Lind’s analysis of the overclass misses most of what it is doing and how and why it is doing it. What he offers that class is a form of nationalism that in no way threatens its basic interests and power, a formula by which it could continue its manipulation of the country by donning nationalist garb even as it persists in managing the decline and eventual disappearance of the nation and its people. In the end, Lind’s book is, even if unintentionally, a fraud. While it purports to be the charter for revolution against the overclass, it is in fact a tract for the further entrenchment and increase of overclass power. As he tells us, following Machiavelli, the overclass “has specialized in ruling by fraud,” by using antinational and antiwhite forces for the furtherance of its own power, and if the ruling class is as wise as it is cunning, it will make good use of this book whose author has already proved himself so eager to be useful to it.
[The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution by Michael Lind (New York The Free Press) 436 pp., $23.00]